View of the Dixie Fire from the Allen Telescope Array in Hat Creek, California. Image Credit: Alex Pollak.


The Allen Telescope Array, an ensemble of 42 antennas used in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI), is threatened by the Dixie Fire, which is now roughly 12 miles south of the Array.

In a statement from the SETI Institute, Alex Pollak, the Array’s Science and Engineering Operations Manager, said the fire’s slow northward march has provoked the need for evacuation.

Anticipating the possibility that it might reach the antennas, the observatory staff contacted the U.S. Forest Service’s Fire Department to prepare the site against eventual damage. Two teams from the Forest Service, about a dozen people in total, removed brush from near the antennas. Trees in the area were pruned of any branches lower than ten feet above the ground.

This is not the first time the Array has been threatened. In the summer of 2014, the so-called Eiler fire reached State Highway 89, approximately two miles from the antennas.

Credit: Seth Shostak/SETI Institute

Unique facility

The Allen Telescope Array is a unique facility. It is the only radio telescope constructed with SETI as a principal activity. Its 42 telescopes are currently being refurbished with more sensitive receivers and follow-on electronics that will greatly speed the search for signals that would prove the presence of technological societies in other star systems. This upgrade is funded by Franklin Antonio, a co-founder of the California semiconductor company, Qualcomm.

As of this writing, there are more than 4,000 firefighters battling the Dixie Fire, and the hope is that it will not reach the Observatory.

The SETI Institute quest is to understand the origins and prevalence of life and intelligence in the universe and share that knowledge with the world. Research at the SETI Institute encompasses the physical and biological sciences and leverages expertise in data analytics, machine learning and advanced signal detection technologies.

The SETI Institute is a distinguished research partner for industry, academia and government agencies, including NASA and NSF.

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